The Herald Bulletin

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July 22, 2013

Classroom Facebook proposal sparks NW Ind. debate

PORTAGE, Ind. . — A proposal to allow teachers to establish classroom Facebook pages for their students and their students' families has sparked a debate about use of the social medium in a northwestern Indiana school district.

Portage Township School Board members and school officials have taken up the topic after board member Jessica Bailey recently presented proposed changes to the policy, which would allow teachers to create the classroom pages with administrative permission, The (Munster) Times reported Sunday.

Unlike personal Facebook pages, the teachers would not accept or deny "friends" of the pages, Bailey explained. Rather, students or parents could "like" a page for communication between teachers, students and parents.

Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia expressed concern about the proposal and said the district should take "a strong position" against teachers "friending" students on their personal Facebook pages.

Board member Debra Ekdahl, who teaches at a Hammond high school, said she declines friend requests from students and communicates with them electronically only through school district email.

"There are teachers who friend their students, and it is not pretty," Ekdahl said.

However, Board President Cheryl Oprisko said restrictions on whom teachers can and cannot friend on social media sites could create freedom of speech issues. She wants the district's attorney to study the matter.

Bailey said restricting out-of-school Facebook use for teachers could create problems if they have relationships with students outside of school, such as in church youth groups or family structures.

She said one of the policies being developed for employees and students outlines "responsible use" policies regarding social media and other technology.

"That's where that should be handled," Bailey said.

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